Most families lead far-flung and busy lives, meaning the only time they see one another face-to-face is around the dinner table during a handful of major holidays. The estate planning process is an opportunity to bring everyone together outside of those scheduled occasions—even if a child or grandchild has to attend via video chat.
Money may be the most talked about wealth contained within a person’s estate, but the riches of their experience and wisdom can mean even more to family members down the line. Reinforcement of family traditions can be built into your estate plan alongside your wishes regarding your money, property, and belongings. After all, what really makes a family a family is its values and traditions—not the way its finances read on paper.
Parents who develop an estate plan often do so to provide for their heirs financially. Many want to make sure hard-earned assets, family heirlooms, or closely held businesses stay within the family. Indeed, a common question is what cost-effective options are available to protect one’s children’s inheritance from a spouse in the event of untrustworthiness or divorce. Thankfully, there are many ways to structure your child’s inheritance to help ensure it will remain in the family for future generations. Here are a few available options.
Although Memorial Day has passed, it is important to honor those that have served our country. This time is also a good opportunity for members of the military and their loved ones to consider setting up an—or revising an existing—estate plan. Military families need to consider special estate-planning issues that others do not. This is particularly true when one or more family members are deployed overseas.
When a loved one suffers from a mental illness, one small comfort can be knowing that your trust can take care of them through thick and thin. There are some ways this can happen, ranging from the funding of various types of treatment to providing structure and support during his or her times of greatest need.
You come into the world a blank slate, and as you grow, you gain wisdom. You've planned your estate to leave physical assets to beneficiaries, so now think about leaving them something that’s just as important but less tangible: the hard-won wisdom you’ve accumulated over your life.
Substance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Because of its prevalence, navigating a loved one’s addiction is a relatively common topic in everyday life. But you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or behavioral like gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery. A properly created estate plan can help.
The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments.
Funding For Treatment:
One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.
Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.
Lifetime Discretionary Trusts:
Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way. Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse.
Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands.
Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution. Contact our office today to see how we can help.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Estate planning [creating your Family Legacy Protection Plan] offers many ways to leave your wealth to your children, but it’s just as important to know what not to do. Here are some things that are all-too-common, but textbook examples of what not to do or try…
If you feel you have a good rapport with your family or don't have many assets, you might be tempted simply to tell your children or loved ones how to handle your estate when you’re gone. However, even if your family members wanted to follow your directions, it may not be entirely up to them. Without a written document, any assets you own individually must go through probate, and “oral wills” have no weight in court. It would most likely be up to a judge and the intestate laws written by the legislature, not you or your desired heirs, to decide who gets what. This is one strategy to not even try.
In lieu of setting up a trust, some people name their children as joint tenants on their properties. The appeal is that children should be able to assume full ownership when parents pass on, while keeping the property out of probate. However, this does not mean that the property is safe; it doesn't insulate the property from taxes or creditors, including your children’s creditors, if they run into financial difficulty. Their debt could even result in a forced sale of your property.
There’s another issue. Choosing this approach exposes you to otherwise avoidable capital gains taxes. Here’s why. When you sell certain assets, the government taxes you. But you can deduct your cost basis—a measure of how much you’ve invested in it—from the selling price. For example, if you and your spouse bought vacant land for $200,000 and later sell it for $315,000, you’d only need to pay capital gains taxes on $115,000 (the increase in value).
However, your heirs can get a break on these taxes. For instance, let’s say you die, and the fair market value of the land at that time was $300,000. Since you used a trust rather than joint tenancy, your spouse’s cost basis is now $300,000 (the basis for the heirs gets “stepped-up” to its value at your death). So, if she then sells the property for $315,000, she only pays capital gains on $15,000, which is the gain that happened after your death! However, with joint tenancy, she does not receive the full step-up in basis, meaning she’ll pay more capital gains taxes.
Giving Away the Inheritance Early:
Some parents choose to give children their inheritance early–either outright or incrementally over time. But this strategy comes with several pitfalls. First, if you want to avoid hefty gift taxes, you are limited to giving each child $14,000 per year. You can give more, but you start to use up your gift tax exemption and must file a gift tax return. Second, a smaller yearly amount might seem more like current expense money than the beginnings of your legacy, so they might spend it rather than invest. Third, if situations change that would have caused you to re-evaluate your allocations, it's too late. You don’t want to be dependent on them giving the cash back if you need it for your own needs.
Shortcuts and ideas like these may look appealing on the surface, but they can do more harm than good. Consult with an estate planner to find better strategies to prepare for your and your families' future.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Earlier this year, NBA team owner Gail Miller made headlines when she announced that she was effectively no longer the owner of the Utah Jazz or the Vivint Smart Home Arena. These assets, she said, were being placed into a family trust, therefore raising interest in an estate planning tool previously known only to the very wealthy—the dynasty trust.
Dynasty Trusts Explained:
A dynasty trust (also called a “legacy trust”) is a special irrevocable trust that is intended to survive for many generations. The beneficiaries may receive limited payments from the trust, but asset ownership remains with the trust for the period that state law allows it to remain in effect. In some states, a legal rule known as the Rule Against Perpetuities forces the trust to end 21 years after the death of the last known beneficiary. However, some states have revoked this limitation so, in theory, a dynasty trust can last forever.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
Wealthy families often use dynasty trusts as a way of keeping the money “in the family” for many generations. Rather than distribute assets over the life of a beneficiary, dynasty trusts consolidate the ownership and management of family wealth. The design of these trusts makes them exempt from estate taxes and the generation-skipping transfer tax, at least under current laws, so that wealth has a better ability to grow over time, rather than having as much as a 40-50% haircut at the death of each generation.
However, these benefits also come at the expense of other advantages. For example, since dynasty trusts are irrevocable and rely on a complex interplay of tax rules and state law; changes to them are much more difficult, or even potentially impossible as a practical matter, compared to non-dynasty trusts. Because change is very difficult or even impossible as a practical matter, the design of the dynasty trust needs to anticipate all changes in family structure (e.g. a divorce, a child's adoption) and assets (e.g. stock valuation, land appraisals), even decades before any such changes occur.
Is a Dynasty Trust Right for Your Family?
This trust usually makes the most sense for very wealthy families whose fortunes would be subject to large estate taxes. For multiple generations, it can defend estates from taxes, divorces, creditors or ill-advised spending habits. That said, if you desire to give your descendants more flexibility with their inheritance, a dynasty trust may not be right for you. To learn more about the pros and cons of this and other estate planning strategies, contact our office today.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes. Good estate planning includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself.
What happens without an incapacity plan?
Without a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.
Finances During Incapacity:
If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.
Health Care During Incapacity:
If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).
You must have these five essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:
1. Durable Power of Attorney:
This legal document gives your agent [called your Attorney-in-Fact] the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.
Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.
2. Revocable Family Trust:
This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustmaker,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustmaker, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust. But if you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).
3. Advance Health Care Directive:
This legal document, also called a medical or Health Care Agent, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.
4. Living Will:
This legal document shares your wishes regarding end of life care if you become incapacitated. Although a living will isn’t necessarily enforceable in all states, it can provide meaningful information about your desires even if it isn’t strictly enforceable.
5. HIPAA authorization:
This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to the agents selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release. It is crucial that each fiduciary nominated in your estate plan that may need access to your HIPPA-protected health documents is granted such legal authority.
Is your incapacity plan up to date?
Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.
Much of estate planning relates to the way a person’s assets will be distributed upon their death. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From smart incapacity planning to diligent probate avoidance, there is a lot that goes into crafting a comprehensive estate plan. One crucial factor to consider is asset protection.
One of the most important things to understand about asset protection is that not much good can come from trying to protect your assets reactively when surprised by situations like bankruptcy or divorce. The best way to take full advantage of estate planning concerning asset protection is to prepare proactively long before these things ever come to pass—and hopefully many of them won’t. First, let’s cover the two main types of asset protection:
Asset Protection For Yourself:
This is the kind that must be done long in advance of any proceedings that might threaten your assets, such as bankruptcy, divorce, or judgement. As there are many highly-detailed rules and regulations surrounding this type of asset protection, it’s important to lean on your estate planning attorney’s expertise.
Asset Protection For Your Heirs:
This type of asset protection involves setting up discretionary lifetime trusts rather than outright inheritance, staggered distributions, mandatory income trusts, or other less protective forms of inheritance. There are varying grades of protection offered by different strategies. For example, a trust that has an independent distribution trustee who is the only person empowered to make discretionary distributions offers much better protection than a trust that allows for so-called ascertainable standards distributions. Don’t worry about the complexity - we are here to help you best protect your heirs and their inheritance.
This complex area of estate planning is full of potential miscalculation, so it's crucial to obtain qualified advice and not solely rely on common knowledge about what's possible and what isn't. But as a general outline, let’s look at three critical junctures when asset protection can help, along with the estate planning strategies we can build together that can set you up for success.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll never need asset protection, but it’s much better to be ready for whatever life throws your way. You’ve worked hard to get where you are in life, and just a little strategic planning will help you hold onto what you have so you can live well and eventually pass your estate’s assets on to future beneficiaries. But experiencing an unexpected illness or even a large-scale economic recession could mean you wind up bankrupt.
Bankruptcy asset protection strategy: Asset protection trusts:
Asset protection trusts hold on to more than just liquid cash. You can fund this type of trust with real estate, investments, personal belongings, and more. Due to the nature of trusts, the person controlling those assets will be a trustee of your choosing. Now that the assets within the trust aren’t technically in your possession, they can stay out of creditors’ reach — so long as the trust is irrevocable, properly funded, and operated in accordance with all the asset protection law’s requirements. In fact, asset protections trusts must be formed and funded well in advance of any potential bankruptcy and have numerous initial and ongoing requirements. They are not for everyone, but can be a great fit for the right type of person.
One of the last things you want to have happen to the nest egg you’ve saved is for your children to lose it in a divorce. To make sure your beneficiaries get the parts of your estate that you want to pass onto them—regardless of how their marriage develops—is a discretionary trust.
Divorce asset protection strategy: Discretionary trusts:
When you create a trust, the property it holds doesn’t officially belong to the beneficiary, making trusts a great way to protect your assets in a divorce. Discretionary trusts allow for distribution to the beneficiary but do not mandate any distributions. As a result, they can provide access to assets but reduce (or even eliminate) the risk that your child’s inheritance could be seized by a divorcing spouse. There are several ways to designate your trustee and beneficiaries, who may be the same person, and, like with many legal issues, there are some other decisions that need to be made. Discretionary trusts, rather than outright distributions, are one of the best ways you can provide robust asset protection for your children.
Family LLCs or partnerships are another way to keep your assets safe in divorce proceedings. Although discretionary trusts are advisable for people across a wide spectrum of financial means, family LLCs or partnership are typically only a good fit for very well-off people.
When an upset customer or employee sues a company, the business owner’s personal assets can be threatened by the lawsuit. Even for non-business owners, injury from something as small as a stranger tripping on the sidewalk outside your house can end up draining the wealth you’ve worked so hard for. Although insurance is often the first line of defense, it is often worth exploring other strategies to comprehensively protect against this risk.
Judgment asset protection strategy: Incorporation:
Operating your small business as a limited liability company (commonly referred to as an LLC) can help protect your personal assets from business-related lawsuits. As mentioned above, malpractice and other types of liability insurance can also protect you from damaging suits. Risk management using insurance and business entities is a complex discipline, even for small businesses, so don’t only rely on what you’ve heard online or “common sense.” You owe it to your family to work with a group of qualified professionals, such as us as your estate planning attorney and an insurance advisor, to develop a comprehensive asset protection strategy for your business.
These are just a few ways we can optimize your estate plan to keep your assets protected, but every plan should be tailored to an individual’s exact circumstances. Contact our office so we can determine the best asset protection strategies for your estate plan.
When you hear the phrase “estate plan,” you might first think about paperwork. Or your mind might land on some of the uncomfortable topics that estate planning confronts head-on: end-of-life decisions, incapacity, and your family’s legacy from generation to generation. Those subjects hit home for everyone.
But while that could feel like a reason to avoid estate planning, the emotional nature of these decisions is a reason to embrace the process with enthusiasm. Here are a few ways in which emotion in estate planning is a good thing:
Estate Planning Creates Stability In Times Of Loss:
If you end up in a state of incapacity later in life, it’s guaranteed to be a difficult time for your family. If your estate plan doesn’t include detailed instructions for a trusted decision maker and an actionable long-term care plan, it’s guaranteed to be even worse. You can save your loved ones from the confusion about what to do and the pressure to make rushed choices if this occurs, allowing them to save their energy for processing the situation.
2. Comprehensive Estate Plans Keep Emotional Matters Private
Detailed, trust-based estate planning with lifetime beneficiary directed trusts keeps your private matters out of the public eye. When your estate plan is scant—such as a simple “I love you” will—you’re running the risk of your estate going through court in a proceeding called probate. This means that choices become visible to those outside your inner circle. Because of the notice requirements, probate can also invite controversy and conflict which a private transfer would have avoided.
3. Estate Planning Can Bring A Family Together:
Everyone has heard of a situation in which siblings argued over what their parents left them as beneficiaries. But the opposite is also quite true. When you get your family and other loved ones involved in your estate planning process, you gain a wonderful opportunity to show them how much you care. Creating your estate plan can strengthen the bonds of love in a family and serve as a reminder of those bonds for years to come.
4. Your Estate Is About Much More Than Money:
Estate planning is about a whole lot more than just wealth distribution and taxes. During an estate planning session, we can talk about significant family heirlooms, your hard-won hobby collection, and other matters totally unique to your life. We can even dive deeply into the memories and intellectual property you want to make sure your beneficiaries receive, such as photos, art, and even recorded videos or audio files of family stories you’d like to share with future generations.
5. An Estate Plan Means You’re Not Going It Alone:
You shouldn’t have to face trying times alone. Whether the estate in question is yours or a loved one’s, your estate planning attorney will have the answers. Let us take care of the nuts and bolts with regards to educating your appointed agents about their duties so you can know that your family will be in good hands if anything happens to you. The idea of setting everything straight on your own can be a stressful one, but these emotional decisions are much easier to make with a trusted advisor by your side.
We want you to feel ownership and investment in getting your estate plan to reflect who you are. Estate planning is an opportunity to look at some of life’s big questions and ultimately make sure your family feels your care for them through the choices you make. Schedule your free consultation with us today to see how we can create custom-made solutions that do just that.
It’s clear why you might want to avoid court involvement in your estate for financial reasons, knowing that probate can quickly get costly and time consuming for those involved. But there is an emotional component to it as well. Your assets are just that: yours. And the idea of them being discussed and deliberated on in a public forum might not be such an appealing one.
If you feel that the matters of your estate should be kept private and that your assets should be distributed to your loved ones rather than eroded by court fees, you’re not alone. And luckily, all it takes to get there is a proactive attitude toward planning your estate. Let’s dive in:
A. Court Interference 101
Two of the most common situations in which the court becomes involved in your estate are guardianship and probate:
B. Guardianship and Conservatorship
When someone experiences mental incapacity, documents in their estate plan can direct a trusted person to carry out that individual’s wishes for the situation. But what if no such documents have been drafted? Then their business becomes the government’s business, too. A court proceeding called guardianship or conservatorship (also known as “living probate”) will be held to appoint guardians and conservators to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person.
When an estate goes through probate, the court oversees the gathering of the probate assets, payment of any outstanding debts, determining whether a will is valid, and who the deceased’s heirs are. The proceedings ultimately determine who should receive the assets that are left after payment of debts, taxes, and costs.
D. Free Your Estate From Interference:
To avoid guardianship, conservatorship, and probate, you can work with us to keep your affairs out of court entirely.
Powers Of Attorney:
Agents or attorneys-in-fact are the individuals or entities you appoint to make decisions for you, be they medical or financial. You designate agents or attorneys-in-fact in a document known as a power of attorney. Durable powers of attorney are documents that continue in validity after the incapacity of the maker of the document (i.e. “durable” against incapacity). Since a durable power of attorney continues in validity, a durable power of attorney can help bypass the need for court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship.
Trusts are agreements that hold some or all your assets, and trustees can be either individuals or corporate entities. Unlike wills, trusts do not go through probate. There are several types of trusts, and we can help you decide exactly which kind is best suited to your estate. By setting up and completely funding a revocable living trust, you can accomplish two important things. First, you can rest assured that your assets will be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries and won’t go through probate upon your death. Second, you also retain the ability to change or cancel the arrangement during your lifetime enabling you to adjust your plan as your financial or family circumstances change.
Ensure That Your Estate Plan Is Air-Tight:
Deciding on appropriate powers of attorney and drafting revocable living trusts are just two of the many steps we can take together to keep your affairs free from court involvement. With a solid estate plan put into place with the help of a trusted attorney, you can take comfort knowing that everything you’ve worked so hard to build and maintain will be passed along to only the people who matter most. Contact our office today to learn more about interference-proofing your estate plan.
While most proactive individuals know the importance of having a well-rounded estate plan, it is typically considered as something that will take effect after they have passed away. But in fact, there are many ways in which comprehensive estate planning can have a positive impact on your life while you are still around to reap the benefits.
Planning for Incapacity:
Most people who reach old age come to a point at which they are no longer able to handle all their affairs on their own. In many cases this incapacity is due to dementia or other cognitive impairments associated with the elderly. At that point, the decisions they’ve made with their estate planning attorney can have major repercussions on their lifestyle and the handling of their wealth.
Take Alex for example. Long before Alex retired from his long and successful career as an IT manager at a large corporation, he put a cursory estate plan in place with a will detailing who would get which of his assets upon his death. But, Alex didn’t update his plan as he aged. In his late seventies, he developed Alzheimer's and it became unclear to his family how to proceed with his medical care and wealth management. Since Alex did not formally choose an individual to be in control of his affairs in the event of incapacity, it falls upon the court to appoint a guardian or conservator. Unfortunately, that’s where things get complicated.
What is guardianship?
Guardianship goes by a few other names, so it’s important to get familiar with various terms used to indicate similar and somewhat overlapping concepts. The other terms you may hear include “conservatorship,” “plenary guardianship,” and “living probate.”
It’s important to note that these terms are used in slightly different manners from state-to-state, with some states using “guardian” and “conservator” interchangeably. Others maintain the distinction of a guardian being a person who makes decisions about medical care and living arrangements, whereas a conservator makes decisions about property and assets. In either case, the guardian or conservator is essentially a substitute decision maker that’s authorized by the court to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.
3 Reasons You Should Avoid It:
In the process of living probate, the court tries to settle on solutions that will fit the incapacitated individual’s best interests. However, there is a much better way. Here are just a few of the reasons guardianship and conservatorship are not ideal fallbacks:
1. Cost To put it simply, living probate is expensive. The legal fees associated with court-appointed attorneys representing incapacitated individuals can chip away at their estates very quickly. Living probate also brings your affairs into the public sector.
2. Privacy Alex may not have wanted his family to have to experience the financial and emotional costs of his living probate court proceedings, but he may also have felt less than enthusiastic about his personal affairs being discussed in a public forum.
3. Clarity In addition to being costly and a compromise of privacy, living probate is also full of guesswork. If Alex had assigned powers of attorney and established long-term care provisions in his estate plan, his affairs would be handled exactly as he wished in the event of his incapacity. When the court is involved, they usually apply default rules of state law, which means the legislature is essentially making some choices for you and your family.
How to Structure Your Estate Plan:
What does an individual like Alex need to do to avoid the chance of his family having to go through living probate? There are a few specific steps we can take to make in planning your estate to ensure your affairs never end up in a court-appointed guardian’s hands:
Powers of Attorney:
A complete estate plan includes named powers of attorney who will fulfill the roles of guardians and conservators in the event of your incapacity. The difference is that these individuals will be chosen by you rather than by the court. There are several different types of powers of attorney for specific purposes, such as a healthcare power of attorney or a general durable power of attorney, the latter of which controls the management of your finances.
2. Long Term Care Planning
Although you may never need long-term care, building a strategy for it into your estate plan will allow you to relax knowing that you’ll receive long-term care according to your wishes if that becomes necessary. This type of planning also helps protect the assets in your estate plan from being used up on medical expenses before going to your beneficiaries.
Avoiding guardianship and conservatorship through living probate is a relatively pain-free process if handled well ahead of time. Get in touch with us today to go over the parts of your estate plan that may need amending to give you and your family the best possible outcomes. We are here to help and can quickly get your estate plan in optimal shape.
We know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children stops us all in our tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you—your child’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met.
Due to the importance of choosing an appropriate Guardian, and our experience seeing firsthand the difficulties people go through determining who to name—we have created a step-by-step Guide: How To Choose Your Child’s Guardian. To obtain your free copy, click here.
No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but there is someone who could muddle through and provide for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs. Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are more than intense.
If no guardian is named in your will, a judge—a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends - will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person she deems most appropriate. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved - and worse - no one may be willing to take your child; if that happens, the judge will place your child in foster care. On the other hand, if you name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.
How to Choose a Guardian:
Your child’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are factors our clients have considered when selecting guardians (and back up guardians).
How well the child and potential guardian know and enjoy each other
Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs
Location - if the guardian lives far away, your child would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood
The child’s age and the age and health of the guardian-candidates:
Grandparents may have the time, and they may or may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager
An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before the child is grown, so there would be a double loss
A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career.
5. Emotional Preparedness:
a. Someone who is single or who doesn't want children may resent having to care for your children.
b. Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around.
Serving as guardian and raising your child is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.
Who’s in Charge of the Money?
Raising your child should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for your child. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add onto their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.
Factors to consider:
1. Naming a seperate person to handle this money can be a good idea. That person would be a guardian of the estate or a trustee, but not guardian of the children.
2. However, having the same person raise the child and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone for the money.
3. But the best person to raise the child may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.
Compromise Will Likely be Necessary:
Naming a guardian is a difficult decision for most parents. Keep in mind that this person will probably not raise your child because odds are that at least one parent will survive until the child is grown. By naming a guardian, however, you are being responsible and planning for a bad—but avoidable—situation arises. It’s important to realize that no one besides you will be the perfect parent for your child, so typically this means making compromises in some areas. Select the person you think will muddle through the best.
Let’s Continue this Conversation:
We know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. We’re happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like. You are a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this—together. To get started, download your free copy of our Guide: Choosing Your Child’s Guardian. Next, contact our office to schedule your free consultation and we’ll get your children protected.
Most financially savvy individuals begin planning their estate when they’re in peak mental shape. The idea that this might change at some point in the distant future is an unpleasant one, and they would rather go about their estate planning as if they’ll be as sharp as a tack late into their golden years. Unfortunately, this common approach of ignoring a potential problem and hoping it simply won’t happen can leave a giant hole in your estate plan. Read on to find out that this common hole can be more easily filled than you might think.
Expect The Best, But Plan for The Worst:
The reality is that an individual’s chances of experiencing some form of cognitive impairment rise with age. While it’s never certain whether cognitive impairment will occur, smart estate planning means factoring it in as a very real possibility.
As the huge baby boomer generation transitions from the workforce and begins to make their way into retirement, cases of Alzheimer's are expected to spike from the current 5.1 million to 13.2 million as soon as 2050. Alzheimer’s is just one of several cognitive impairment conditions along with dementia and the much more common mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which is often a precursor to those more serious ailments.
As U.S. life expectancies increase, the chances of living with cognitive impairment increase as well — with at least 9.5 percent of Americans over 70 experiencing it in one form or another.
No matter your age or family history, cognitive impairment can affect anyone although it’s widely acceptedto affect mostly older adults. As you implement or revise your estate plan, it is well worth the effort to plan for this potential. Luckily, estate planning attorneys have developed good solutions to handle this circumstance and can help guide you on the best way to protect yourself and your family.
An Easily-Avoidable Estate Planning Mistake:
Consider Ashley’s story. A successful real estate agent with a stellar career in her hometown of Kalamazoo, MI, Ashley begins planning her estate in her mid-thirties.
She partners with an estate planning attorney, and together they draft a revocable living trust with Ashley’s preferred beneficiaries and charities in mind, figure out guardianship for her two sons in case she and her husband pass suddenly, and settle on an appropriate beneficiary for her life insurance policy. Now that she knows where her assets will go after her death, Ashley rests easy assuming there’s nothing more that needs doing in her estate plan.
Save Your Family From Obstacles and Conundrums:
But forty years down the road, Ashley’s children realize her MCI is developing into Alzheimer’s. Although she’s occasionally visited with her attorney to adjust her plan, she never added any provisions for how she wanted her children and other guardians to handle a situation like this. Here’s where things get complicated.
Ashley did not work with her estate planning attorney to put disability provisions into her trust and never worked with an insurance professional to purchase adequate income insurance or long-term care insurance. The care she requires to live her best life possible with cognitive impairment doesn’t come cheap. Those mounting care costs will likely quickly erode Ashley’s estate. As a result, her estate plan may no longer work as intended, since it no longer lines up with her actual asset portfolio.
But since Ashley does not have the ability to rework her estate plan in her current mental state, her family is left with the burden of figuring out what to do while navigating a complex and bureaucratic legal system in the guardianship or conservatorship court. No one in the family really knows what Ashley’s wishes are regarding both serious medical decisions and financial changes. All Ashley’s family wants is to see her enjoying her remaining years in peace and security, but they are now tasked with using guesswork to make difficult choices on her behalf while a guardianship or conservatorship court watches every move.
Give Us a Call Today:
Factoring the potential for cognitive impairment into your estate plan doesn’t have to be a headache. In fact, a little effort now by legally designating who you want to be in charge and what you want them to do can have a wonderful impact on you and your family later on. We can work together to ensure your estate plan is ready for whatever life throws your way. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
“Every one of us receives and passes on an inheritance. The inheritance may not be an accumulation of earthly possessions or acquired riches, but whether we realize it or not, our choices, words, actions, and values will impact someone and form the heritage we hand down.”
— Ben Hardesty
Successful estate planning is about far more than simply passing your wealth to the next generation—it’s also about passing on your values. No matter which financial or legal structures you choose to contain and manage your assets, these instruments only preserve your wealth until it reaches the hands of your beneficiaries. What happens then? Your values enabled you to accumulate wealth and persevere despite all obstacles and long odds. If your children and grandchildren don’t share and cherish those values, they could lose their inheritance as quickly as they received it.
But our values can be hard to capture in language. They seem second nature to us only because we live them every day. Here’s an exercise to help you identify your (perhaps) rarely-spoken moral code and communicate it to the next generation.
The Science of Surfacing Your Subconscious Values:
In Chapter 3 of his bestselling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, productivity author David Allen discusses what he calls vertical project planning—that is, identifying the “why’s” and“what’s” of any project before engaging with its details. To reveal the standards that you have regarding any task, just finish the following sentence:
“I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they…”
For instance, if you’re planning a dinner celebration for your dad’s 70th birthday, you could fill in the blanks as follows:
…So long as they created a budget for the party and got buy-in from both of my sisters to contribute;
…So long as they made sure to double check the guest list with mom;
…So long as they booked a restaurant within 30 minutes from my parents’ home.
As it pertains to communicating values, we could reword it like this:
“I would give a total stranger free rein to guide the people I care about most about how to live a great and moral life as long as they…”
…So long as they make sure to communicate my core values of creativity, compassion and integrity;
…So long as they give many concrete examples of these standards being met and not met to demonstrate exactly what I mean;
…So long as there’s some mechanism to remind my family of these values in an ongoing way, so that they don’t forget;
…So long as they make inheritance from the trust I establish conditional on whether my beneficiaries live these values.
Estate planning is ultimately not only about passing along your tangible wealth and deciding how to distribute assets. It’s an opportunity to ensure your legacy into the next generation and beyond. Clarifying your values and working to effectively pass them along can be a profoundly liberating experience.
George Carlin would have been a great pitchman for estate planning. You may remember his stand-up routine on “stuff.” We all have stuff, and we're quite particular about our stuff. We move it around with us, it's hard for some of us to get rid of it, and some of us don't like our stuff mixed up with other people's stuff.
During your lifetime, you collect a lot of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it not. But because it's your stuff, it means something to you. You already know you can't take it with you when you die, so there must be some way of distributing your stuff to other people.
Normally, you want your stuff to go to people you care about—your family and special friends, sometimes a worthwhile cause. And you may want certain people to have certain things to remember you by.
Document Instructions for Your Stuff:
When you die, all your stuff, no matter how valuable or invaluable it is, is called your "estate." In the simplest terms, an “estate plan” is your instructions for getting your stuff to the people you want to have it after you die.
Important Legal Mumbo Jumbo:
An estate plan must meet certain legal requirements, including that it must be written down, it must be signed by you, and it must be witnessed by other people who see you sign it. Your estate plan may be very simple, or it may be more complex, depending on how much stuff you have, how long you want your stuff to provide for the people you care about, and when you want them to receive your stuff. For example, you'd probably want to wait a few years before that cute two-year-old receives grandpa's antique pocket watch.
How Do You Get an Estate Plan?
You decide who you want to get your stuff and when you want them to get it. Your attorney then puts your instructions into a legal document called a will or trust. (There are distinct advantages to using a trust, but we'll save that discussion for another time.) Also, while you can legally write your own, you have a much better chance of your estate plan working if you have an experienced attorney do it for you. To be frank, laypersons mess it up all the time.
What Happens if I Just Don’t Get Around to It?
What if you die and you don't have an estate plan? Well, there still must be a way to get your stuff to other people, so the state in which you live has a plan waiting if you don't have one. The only problem is that you won't have any say in who gets your stuff, and someone might get left out, and, your stuff may go to a stranger—some “heir at law”—that you don’t even know.
Example 1: If more than one of your relatives want the same part of your stuff, that can get messy and expensive… and a lot of your stuff will be used to pay the courts and attorneys to sort it all out. (Happens all the time.)
Example 2: If you're not married and you want your significant other to get some of your stuff when you die, you'd better get your plan in place, or it just won't happen. Under the state's plan, your stuff will go to your blood relatives. Period.
Example 3: If you're married and you've got kids, don't be too sure that your spouse is going to get all your stuff. Your kids will probably get their share of your stuff, which means your spouse may not get enough of your stuff to live on.
By the way, if your stuff includes kids, then you've got to have a plan. Otherwise, the court will decide wh will raise them if something happens to both parents.
Scary thoughts? You bet!
The Bottom Line:
If you're responsible enough to have your own stuff, you need to be responsible for making sure what will happen to it after you're gone. Let’s make sure you do it right; call the office now and we’ll help you translate your plans for your stuff into a legally binding document. To ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, pet owners can get a bit creative when providing for their pets. Let’s look now at 3 famous cases involving pet trusts and distill important lessons from them.
David Harper and Red:
David Harper, a wealthy, reclusive bachelor in Ottawa, Canada, wasn’t exactly famous during his life. In his death, however, he made headlines by reportedly leaving his entire $1.1 million-dollar estate to his tabby cat, Red. Just to make sure his wishes were carried out, Harper bequeathed the fortune to the United Church of Canada under the stipulation that they take care of Red for him! The ploy worked.
Lesson learned: You can be as creative as you desire in your approach to making sure your pets receive proper care after you’re gone.
Maria Assunta and Tommaso:
In a four-legged and furry version of the classic rags-to-riches story, wealthy Italian widow Maria Assunta rescued a stray cat from the streets of Rome and gave him a proper home and name: Tommaso. As Assunta’s health failed, she tried for several years to find an animal organization to entrust Tommaso. When no suitable organization was found, Assunta left the estate valued at $13 million directly to the cat in her will and named her own nurse as caretaker. She passed away in 2011 at the ripe old age of 94, knowing her beloved Tommaso would be well taken care of.
Lesson learned: The best way to ensure the care of your pet is in writing, with a proper estate plan.
Patricia O’Neill and Kalu:
Patricia O’Neill, daughter of British nobility and ex-spouse of Olympian Frank O’Neill, had designated a fortune worth $70 million to her chimpanzee, Kalu and other pets, in her will - or so she thought. It was discovered in 2010 that the heiress herself was virtually broke, thanks to the shady dealings of a dishonest financial advisor. This story provides perhaps the most famous example of a pet trust gone dry while the owner is still living.
Lessons learned: You can only give away what you have. If caring for your pets after your death is important to you, make sure your financial plan is in line with your estate plan and that you’ve taken appropriate steps to oversee your advisors.
To summarize, establishing a pet trust is the best way to ensure that your beloved pets receive the care they deserve after you pass on. If you want to ensure that your family—including your pet animals—are cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.
Ideally, when someone passes away, the paperwork and material concerns associated with the estate are so flawlessly handled—usually thanks to excellent preparation—that they fade into the background, allowing the family to grieve and remember in peace.
In fact, the whole business of estate planning—or at least a significant piece of it—is concerned with ease. How can assets and legacies be transferred to the next generation in a harmonious, stress-free, fair process?
To that end, one primary goal of many people is to avoid the complications and costs involved with probate.
There are many “tools of the trade”, that a qualified attorney can use to keep your assets out of probate—for example, establishing joint ownership on bank accounts and real estate titles, designating beneficiaries for life insurance policies and certain accounts, and so on. However, setting up a revocable living trust is quite often the best, most comprehensive option for avoiding probate. Let’s discuss why this is true.
What is a trust?
Often touted as an alternative to a will, a trust is a legal structure that permits management of your assets by a trustee on behalf of your beneficiaries. A living trust is established while you are still alive, as opposed to being created upon your death. You can be the trustee for your own living trust until you are no longer able to manage your financial affairs or pass away, at which point the responsibility for managing the trust passes to someone you designate as a successor trustee.
How does a trust help you avoid probate?
The purpose of probate is to transfer property ownership for all assets that were listed in your name when you passed away. A trust can bypass this process completely because your assets are transferred to the trust while you are still alive. Therefore, when you die, there’s nothing that needs to be transferred by the probate court (everything is already in your trust). Furthermore, a trust can cover virtually any type of asset, from real estate to vehicles to stock to bank accounts. When a trust is structured correctly with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, your entire estate can stay out of probate court entirely. This process not only limits court costs, but it also maintains the privacy of your financial records while enabling your beneficiaries to enjoy the benefits of the trust without disruption or delay.
Establishing a trust can be a bit complicated, and the process can cost a bit more upfront than a will; however, if you’re willing to invest a little more up front, a trust can be your best option for avoiding probate later. Especially in California, probate should generally be avoided absent extenuating circumstances.
That said, as wonderful as revocable living trusts can be—always bear in mind H.L. Mencken’s warning that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
The key to planning effectively to minimize the likelihood of a drawn out, contentious, expensive process is to work with highly qualified, trusted people. Find a lawyer who genuinely cares about you and your family and who knows how to forge the right strategy for you and your family. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.